by Simona Dimovski, Head of Security and Technology, Helia
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, marking the advancements of women over the last hundred years, I find myself asking – how far have women actually come in their struggle for inclusion and equality.
Women make up approximately 50% of the world’s population. This can vary from 49 to 51% depending on which country you live in, but around 2.4 billion women globally don’t have the same economic rights as men. Across the globe, women are underrepresented in government; they are a minority in the executive suite and make-up only a quarter of the tech and cyber sectors.
In many developing countries, the situation for women is dire. The issues are systemic and complex. It is overwhelming to know where to start tackling the problem.
Rather than spreading the net wide, I decided to look in our own backyard to see how far women in Australia have come. As a woman living in Australia and working in the Technology and Cyber industry for over 20 years, I can say with authority that we’ve still got more work to do.
Cyber and technology are the cogs that turn the wheels of Australia. Now more than ever, our lives depend on technology – from virtual meetings to attending online events, keeping connected with loved ones, making a bank transaction, or booking a medical appointment, a lot of our lives go through a digital process.
As technology and cyber are so integrated into our lives, it’s an incredible time to work in this field. As more and more people and businesses look to technology to solve challenges in a post-pandemic world, these industries are booming. However, where are the women?
In Australia, much has been written about the male domination of the technology and cyber industries. Many technology companies are run by men, and female role models are few and far between. The lack of female inclusion comes with massive costs. The gender disparity in technology is not just an equality issue, it’s a business issue. And in the case of cyber, it’s a national issue.
How bad is the problem really? In my last three organizations, there have been no female applicants in the last five years for specialized cyber and technology architecture roles. This is an industry-wide problem.
In fact, Australia doesn’t have enough skilled cyber security workers to meet the business-as-usual cyber security demands. AustCyber predicts that, by 2026, Australia will need 18,000 additional workers to keep the cyber lights on. Everyone is feeling the effect, which has led to increased calls for efforts to amplify the number of women in technology roles.
In recent years I’ve started counting the number of women at cyber and tech events, and female representation equates to about 10%. At a recent C-level lunch, I was the only female among 15 people. This experience is what I am accustomed to. Most of the time, I don’t even notice it.
My journey to becoming a CIO and Head of Cyber and Technology, has meant that, on many occasions, I have been the only woman on the team.
Even before entering the workforce, I was a minority in my technology classes. I was also a minority in my graduate placement program. At the start of my career, I had very few female role models. Astonishingly, it was less than eight years ago that I first reported to a female leader.
My personal experience can be described statistically. Last year only 20% of females enrolled into computer science at Australian universities. Women represent about 25% of the technology industry.
Although the representation of women in technology has experienced a steady increase over the last few years, at this rate, it would take another ten years for equality to be achieved.
Meanwhile, women are four times more likely to see gender bias as an obstacle to promotion than their male counterparts. And women are twice more likely to leave the IT industry in the first year than their male peers.
Over the last 20 years, the industry has made leaps and bounds in the right direction. With diversity programs and objectives in place, there has been a positive cultural shift to make a more sustainable change for women in the technology and cyber industry.
The Federal government has identified improving women’s participation in cyber as a strategic priority and allocated $1.67 billion dollars over the decade to 2030 to expand Australia’s cybersecurity infrastructure and build the workforce. These are all incredibly positive steps towards equality.
On a smaller scale, we all have a part to play in levelling the playing field in technology and cyber. When I reflect on the turning points in my career and how my progression in the industry became possible, it was the belief in myself that my mentors (men and women) instilled in me. It was because they saw something great in me and dedicated time and effort to my nurturing success. I am now paying it forward.
Here are my three actionable insights, the small things everyone can do to start the ripple effect:
- Assume responsibility for writing a different future. Start by being accountable for the shifts in culture we need to make. Add the gender diversity conversation to your weekly meetings.
- Start a diversity committee in your workplace. And if there is one in place, get involved. Have a conversation about what you can practically do to make positive changes.
- Mentor and Role Model behaviour and expectations. Identify successful women in leadership and use them as role models.
I can’t tell you if being a woman in technology and cyber has made my journey harder or longer, or if my promotions were overdue. What I can tell you is this, I have come incredibly far from the young woman who joined this industry 22 years ago as a graduate.
So, as we think more about the meaning of International Women’s Day, the question we should be asking is, “What can I do today to make inclusion and equality a reality for all”?